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Growing up, I lived most of my life in a fantasy world. My family pool became the deep blue sea and I, a mermaid rescuing my sister from the big bad octopus during the long summer nights. We went trudging through the bush, leaving behind clues in case we got lost searching for the missing gold. On holidays in Ireland we would disappear for the whole day to build hay houses whilst finding fairies to grant our wishes and dance with us.

Childhood imaginations are such a fantastical thing! I never wanted, and still don’t/won’t let go of the opportunity to play and believe in anything (some might say grow up, but hey, tomato, tomAto!) so I became an actor!

Marcus Vanco Our guest contributor this month is doing just that. Actor Marcus Vanco plays Bandon, an Elf who has mysterious visions in MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles. Based on Terry Brooks best selling fantasy books, The Shannara Chronicles follows elvin and human heroes in a world thousands of years in the future. Humankind has wiped itself out and an evil demon army must be stopped before they destroy the universe.

Hailing from Brisbane and another ridiculously talented QUT graduate, Marcus kicked off his career playing a WW2 fighter pilot in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. We’ll see him in the remake of George A Romero’s zombie flick Day of the Dead to be released next year and in January he will return to New Zealand to shoot the second season of The Shannara Chronicles.

Being cast in such physically demanding roles, I asked Marcus a few questions about how health and fitness impacts a role and the choices he makes in his career.

1. What does a normal day involve for you when it comes to training and does it change when you’re shooting compared to down time?

A normal day in terms of training would involve anything with supersets and compound movements. Basically weights coupled with cardio focused exercise to get the heart rate up. Squats, burpees, box jumps, farmer’s walks, ropes, sled push, bench press etc. A personal trainer I once had always used to say, “So you think you’re strong? Let’s get that heart rate up and find out.” I think that’s best way to burn fat/build lean muscle.

Of course when you’re shooting you have to make compromises. You may not have access to a fully equipped gym plus you’ll be flat out working most days leaving you with down time when you’ll really want to relax. So you’ll have to adapt. You can still do a lot with your own body weight (push ups, stair sprints etc). Or you might have to bite the bullet and not exercise at all if your role requires you to. I believe it’s important for actor’s to stay healthy and physically fit, but it’s not your first priority when you actually book a job.

2. What does a high level of wellbeing and fitness mean to your career?

I think it’s essential for the down time between jobs. Exercise can help boost my self-esteem. I feel better and am more active in getting things done. It can help fill those long empty days with something other than your own thoughts. There is also mental toughness to be gained from pushing yourself to exercise either early morning or after a long day.

3. How do you fuel your body through nutrition?

I try to keep it healthy and clean, but I’m not always successful. Burgers, milkshakes and chilli cheese fries are simply amazing! So it’s definitely a good idea to have a cheat day to prevent insanity. However, in between I try to simply break it up into protein and carbs. I’ll reserve carbs for breakfast and lunchtime. Healthy carbs like oats and brown rice for example, while having a decent measure of protein in all meals. Also, anything green is always a must! Spinach and broccoli are your friends! I also try to have at least 4 to 5 meals a day to help keep the metabolism going. One of those meals could easily be a protein shake too.

4. Do you practise mind fitness and how does that benefit, or hinder, your process?

I suppose if I practise any mind fitness it would be pushing my body to get out of bed early in the morning and not only exercise, but exercise intensely. I hate exercising most of the time. You’re willingly putting your body through pain. That sucks. But I guess nothing worthwhile is ever easy. So you just have to not over-think and just do it. Be kind to yourself, but not lazy with yourself. Realising that no matter what you feel and think, your physicality does not stop you from putting one foot in front of the other! I am certainly no master of this, but I find by constantly committing to such thinking it eventually bleeds into other areas of my life other than exercise.

5. Your body is something you have worked on, what advise would you give to guys wanting to create a strong and functional body?

Get fit in the gym, get ripped in the kitchen. Variety. Change up your workouts every now and then. Instead of a weight session one day, do yoga. And also don’t forget to stretch before and after! STRETCH!

In the vlog below, Marcus takes us through a workout his Shannara trainer put him through called 7.7.7.

Seven exercises.
Seven reps.
Seven rounds.

Sounds like a piece of cake right?!? HA!

This one focuses on cardio and fat burning as we did it outdoors with no equipment. You could move the concept into the gym and add some weight for a strength workout.

It took us approximately 20 minutes to complete and let me tell you, it’s a killer. Every part of my body was on fire, I was as bright as a beetroot and I felt AHMAZING afterwards, I just had to lie in the sand with the water lapping over me for five minutes before I stood up again!

This is a great workout that’s easy, quick and really hits the spot, give it a try folks!

Don’t forget,


Ali xx

Alison McGirr QUT (BA Acting) is a lover of life, Activewear, and orange lipstick. Awarded the prestigious Jennifer Blocksidge Honour and Grant, she staged her first theatre production, The Interview, shortly after. Alison is part of The Heath Ledger Young Artist’s Oral History project being conducted by the National Film and Sound Archive. Having appeared in Home and Away as Molly Brenner, a move to Ireland saw her work on hit TV shows Penny Dreadful and Vikings. Once back in Sydney she trained with the Australian Institute of Fitness uniting her passion for fitness and acting.